Michelle García is a journalist and Soros Equality Fellow through the Open Society Foundations. She is working on a book about borders. Follow her on Twitter: @pistoleraprod. The views expressed here are the author’s. View more opinion on CNN. (CNN)In conceding to fund roughly 55 miles of new border wall, Democrats may have temporarily averted…
Michelle Garcíais a journalist and Soros Equality Fellow through the Open Society Foundations. She is working on a book about borders. Follow her on Twitter:@pistoleraprod. The views expressed here are the author’s. View moreopinionon CNN.
(CNN)In conceding to fund roughly 55 miles ofnew border wall, Democrats may have temporarily averted another government shutdown but they have once again reloaded the Republicans’ favored weapon. The border has proven to possess enough firepower to rile up the GOP base, stoke divisiveness and serve as ablunt toolto batter away at Democrats, whose push for respecting migrants’ rights and immigration reform they wrongly equate with a call for open borders.
News of the tentative deal, which reportedly includes $1.375 billion for various types of border barriers, began circulating Monday night during twin rallies in El Paso, Texas, held by President Donald J. Trump and possible Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.
If Trump signs off on the deal, he gets far less border wall funding than he initially demanded, in the immediate, but he wins critical credibility for the Republicans’ unsubstantiated and false claims of a border security crisis. Worse, by conceding to the wall in any form, Democrats have yielded to a monument of a violent, racist ideology. “The just-below-the-surface message is this,”wrote CNN’s Chris Cillizzaabout Trump’s “dog whistle” rhetoric on immigration and the border. “White people made this country great. Brown people are flooding in.”
The wall’s symbolic message helps explain why some of the fiercest opposition to the border wall is found among people of color. Some 87% of blacks and 71% of Latinos oppose the wall,according toa 2018 Quinnipiac Poll, compared with 55% of whites. Almost all border wall opponents,according to the Pew Research Center in January, were against wall funding as a way to end the government shutdown.
Not only have Democrats betrayed part of their base politically, they have also agreed to additional wall construction in theheavily populated Rio Grande Valley, aLatino majorityDemocratic stronghold some 700 miles down the border from El Paso. Many Texas Latinos that I knowhave some connectionto the valley and the region represents a center of cultural identity and historical richness, whereranching traditions and familial rootspredate the border.
O’Rourke, in his 2018 bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz,heavily courtedthe valley and Latino constituents.Their turnouthelped him come within 2 percentage points of winning andhas made Texas, which is “majority-minority,”arguably a competitive statefor Democrats.
The deal also indicates a willingness by some Democrats to sacrifice priorities. Already, constructionhas resultedin the federal government seizing land belonging to working-class families that Democrats profess to represent. Meanwhile, existing border wallstops shortof a well-manicured golf club and resort. Evidently, wealth is its own security. To build the wall, the federal governmenthas waiveddozens of laws protecting air, endangered species and habitat at a time when many Democrats are eager to show their bona fides as climate change warriors by signing on toan ambitious green new deal.
“It’s just more hypocrisy from Congress,” said Mariana Treviño Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, which lies in the path of the wall. “To be pro-environment and then desecrate acres of conservation corridor for a border wall built 2 miles inland that also seizes private property.”
The tentative new deal reportedly includes some undefined restrictions to address environmental concerns. However, limitsinserted in the 2018 wall fundinghave not spared theButterfly Center, a 19th century church, private property and wildlife refuge.Bulldozers are in position, Wright told me, andlandowners are in court. Hours after the new deal was announced, lawyers for the Butterfly Centerfiled for an injunction and restraining order,indicating alack of confidencein congressional promises.
Rather than bring an end to border security fights, Democrats may have signed on to a never-ending battle with the President’sstated goalof “operational control” of the border as defined in his executive order as preventing the entry of all contraband. Even more, Democrats have squandered the opportunity to demonstrate leadership on the border by claiming the border as a site of inclusiveness.
In El Paso on Monday, Trump again used the wall as a platform in a wide-ranging speech marked by making false statements and demonizing asylum seekers. O’Rourke, a former El Paso congressman whovoted forthe 2018 spending bill that included funding for the border wall, has anchored his message of unity at the border. At his rally, O’Rourke equated a stand for America as a stand against walls.
“There is no bargain in which we can sacrifice some of our humanity to gain a little more security. We know that we deserve and will lose both of them if we do,”he said. “Let’s make sure that our laws, our language, and our leaders reflect our values, who we are, our experience.” O’Rourke’s words then drifted into the night air, soon after the deal was announced and far away from the site of the new wall and the impending destruction.